After seeing Abou Diaby deliver man-of-the-match performances for both club and country it looks as though we may have a ready-made replacement for the departed Song. The Frenchman has had a torrid time with injuries the past few seasons and has largely been a squad player. He has previously suffered from inconsistent form that has left many wondering if his futures lies away from the Emirates, but looks as though he has been reborn.
The midfield trio that Wenger relies on all have different and unique roles that all share one common feature- passing. Every single midfield player at Arsenal is required to be comfortable with the ball at their feet and to be able to complete a variety of passes. The style of Arsenal is built on possession and it is in the midfield that is where we traditionally dominate.
The three-man midfield consists of one player that operates in the hole, popping up behind the strikers and offering a vital link between the midfield and attack. This CAM (Central Attacking Midfield) role was the position that Fabregas thrived in and has now been taken up by his compatriot Santi Cazorla.
The second role is a defensive-mid (DM), who is the midfielder closest to defenders and the player looks to spray passes from the middle of the park, as well as provide defensive cover. After Song jumped ship it looks as though Mikel Arteta will shift over from his box-to-box position to fill in as a DM, and provide the link between defense and midfield.
The third and final position of the midfield trio is the box-to-box role. This role combines both defensive and attacking attributes and is vital to the team’s performance. Previously occupied by Arteta it has now shifted over to the much-maligned Abou Diaby.
Santi Cazorla- the Spaniard has settled in extremely well and looks right at home in the hole, and has gelled nicely with Arteta. He oozes class every time he receives the ball, and is always thinking one step ahead.
Mikel Arteta- With a completed pass percentage of 93.1% (total number of 288), after the first 3 games, he is an unsung hero at the heart of the midfield. Mikel has seamlessly shifted from his usual box-to-box role to a deeper, more conservative position, which suits his extensive range of passing and experience at Premier League level.
Abou Diaby- His physical stature and ability to drive from midfield and provide a goal-threat make Diaby a perfect fit for the all action midfielder. If he can stay consistent and injury free he may have a breakout season, but that is a big if.
Francis Coquelin- The young midfielder has had to fill in at fullback quite a bit last season, but his natural position is at the base of the midfield. He is in the mould of Diaby, but with an arguably more diverse passing range; definitely one to watch.
Aaron Ramsey- Ramsey has seen his stock fall from a potential Fabregas replacement, to a back-up utility midfielder. Wenger has played him as a defensive midfielder, an attacking midfielder and even on the wing! It remains to be seen if he can recapture the form that saw him claim the Welsh captaincy, but he does have time on his side.
Jack Wilshere- The great young English hope, hailed by the British media as a saviour, has spent almost a year out with various injuries. Jack is a complete midfielder, with his ability to drive out of midfield a particular highlight, and has years to improve and become even better.
Tomas Rosicky- Rosicky exploded into life last season after years of below-par performances, before injuring himself. With the introduction of Cazorla, and Jack’s potential return he may be relegated to the bench as a plan B.
Emmanuel Frimpong- His loan-spell at wolves ended in disaster with the rupture of a cruciate ligament in his knee, and forced him to return to Arsenal. From his few appearances he looks to be a player that is a hard-tackler, but really he hasn’t played enough first-team football to comment on his potential.
Has Diaby come of age?
The two things that are holding the 26-year-old Frenchman back are injuries and form. He is extremely injury-prone, has spent several lengthy spells on the sidelines, and has infuriated the supporters to no end with his inconsistency.
One game he will completely dominate the midfield, spraying passes left and right, surging forward as well as breaking up opposition’s attacks. The next game he will either injure himself or look completely lost in the middle of the park, as though he has never played there before. The two concerns are likely linked as it is very hard to gain form when you are not playing regularly, and this has been a huge problem for Diaby.
I have always stressed that his natural position is not at defensive-midfield, but he doesn’t have the required finesse to operate in the hole. The box-to-box position in the midfield has been left open by the departure of Song, and subsequent shift of Arteta to a deeper role. Abou fits the box-to-box position like a glove- he is physically strong, athletic, has good passing skills and has the ability to surge forward from midfield into attack.
I am cautiously optimistic of Diaby, as he has given supporters false hope before. It is eerily similar to the Rosicky situation last year, where the Czech suddenly burst into life after a few years of mediocre performances. With Jack’s potential return, and a certain Francis Coquelin waiting in the wings, it could be the time we finally see the rise of Diaby.